How does API ensure that students are provided with strong academic support during their program abroad?
API believes in the importance of providing extensive pre-departure services and support for students on-site to ensure academic success. API recognizes that studying at host universities abroad, with a wide variety of credit systems and structures, can be challenging. To alleviate these challenges for students and their home universities, from the time the program is developed until the student returns from abroad, API is available to assist the student and home university every step along the way. API provides both its students and its partners with extensive guidance throughout the pre-departure period and during the experience abroad.
Great care is taken when choosing locations and host universities abroad. API strives to ensure that academic quality meets U.S. university standards without compromising the integrity of the host university’s academic system and teaching methods. All host universities selected by API are either formally recognized by the local ministry of education, which is considered to be the equivalent of the regional accreditation process in the United States, or a U.S. school of record certifies the academic rigor of the coursework and issues a transcript. Several API partner universities abroad are accredited by U.S. accrediting agencies (e.g., John Cabot University in Rome, American University of Sharjah) or have been accredited by other prestigious groups such as ABET, EQUIS or AACSB.
At API, our approach personifies two well-known adages, “the best defense is a good offense” and “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of the cure.” API provides students with extensive information prior to their departure abroad, so they are well aware of the academic structure they will experience abroad. We believe that in doing so, we can help students to avoid some of the pitfalls of studying within a new educational system and minimize the adjustment period.
Accommodations for Students with Disabilities
The API medical form asks students to indicate any learning disabilities or needs that would require special accommodations. The API director uses this information to verify with our partner institutions what type of accommodations can be provided to the student onsite. If specific accommodations are not available onsite, students will be provided with advance warning so as to make alternate arrangements or discuss alternate program sites that can better meet their needs.
Course Form and Pre-registration
Starting with their acceptance into an API program, students are provided with electronic post-acceptance forms including the course form. This course form explains the general academic structure of the program. Students are reminded of any language requirements, if they will be taking courses with other international students or local students, the number of credit hours per course, and the minimum number of courses required to maintain full-time status. If pre-registration is possible at the host university, students will be asked to provide their preliminary course choices.
API Toolbox (Electronic Orientation System)
Approximately one month prior to the program start date, students gain access to the API Toolbox online orientation, which includes information pulled from former student evaluations. The information provided helps future students to understand the university organization, including: class size, the nature of student/professor interaction, how many hours per week a student could expect to devote to their studies, what outside resources were required to complete coursework, the primary method of evaluation and assessment for grading purposes, and challenges previous students faced in their academic program abroad.
Upon arrival abroad, all API students participate in an extensive orientation program. Academic components that are covered in API orientation sessions include an overview of the local education system, local classroom norms, assessment methods, and grading scales. Students are encouraged to seek the assistance of the API Resident Director in the event of any academic concern or problem. Students are alerted to the availability of an hour of language tutoring per week through API at no additional cost. Students are informed that API RDs can help to arrange professional tutoring for specific subject areas other than language. In addition to the API-only meetings, all students will participate in an academic orientation at the local host university.
Registration and Adjustment Period
The most challenging period of the experience abroad can be the registration period. For example, a student who failed to review grammatical principles prior to taking the onsite placement exam, but has completed all prerequisite courses to complete a language class at the advanced level, may perform poorly on a placement test. API recommends that students contact their home institution to determine whether credit can be awarded at a lower level, perhaps with documentation of course content. If the student confirms with the home university that credit cannot be issued at a lower level, an RD would meet with the local academic director to determine if a student’s level could reassessed to confirm proper course placement.
As students adjust to a new academic environment, they may experience confusion about local professor’s expectations for assignments. For example, API students directly enrolled in French institutions in Paris learn how to structure papers and essays in the API-taught course. Our RD ensures that students are aware of how French students would typically structure a paper and the type of analysis that would be expected from a local student.
Students struggling in a given course may talk to API RDs about the best ways to get extra tutoring or potentially soliciting extra assignments to try to improve their grades. If a student is struggling with a particular professor, and the drop/add period still allows for it, API RDs will work with local staff to determine if the API student can be moved to another division of the specific course, or alternately, switch into another course altogether.
Early Notification of Problems
API believes early intervention when students are demonstrating poor performance can be a highly effective tool to ensure that students successfully complete a semester. In many language programs where students participate in courses specifically designed for visiting university-level students, class attendance is mandatory. Students are alerted to the importance of class attendance during the orientation period, and both host families and host institutions are asked to notify API if a student is not attending class.
In certain situations, the host university may not share grade or attendance information with API staff. As many students are less likely to proactively seek academic assistance even when they are struggling, API believes in the importance of conducting mid-term evaluations with our students. During these evaluations, students have the opportunity to share concerns over their performance in class, any negative or positive interactions with host professors, etc.
Similarly, students experiencing difficulties with specific professors are often too concerned about their grades or too shy to speak directly with the professor in question. In other cases, the problem the student is experiencing directly relates to a cultural difference. RDs are careful to listen to the concerns of our students and provide advice as possible. If the situation does not stem from a cultural misunderstanding, with the student’s permission, the RD will seek to intervene on the student’s behalf.
As with hiring and firing in the United States, complaints about a professor are treated very delicately. Generally, due to the complexities of labor laws at home and abroad, a complaint from API may not be sufficient to ensure that a professor will be removed from a particular course. However, host universities have been responsive when API could document misconduct by a professor. In one instance, students documented how a professor had failed to appear timely to class on countless occasions, had demonstrated anti-American sentiment in class, and generally was failing to provide a welcoming environment conducive to student learning. Upon receiving these complaints from students, the API director was able to persuade the Academic Director to identify a substitute professor who conducted the course for the second half of the semester, thereby avoiding further problems. API RDs retain negative feedback to analyze longer-term trends and advise future students.
Maximizing Learning Opportunities
To supplement learning in the classroom and further encourage language immersion and increase cultural awareness, API students are encouraged to take advantage of API-designed cultural activities and events, as well as integrated university activities. Events such as student performances, clubs and student tutoring can be highly complementary to student learning within the classroom. API staff abroad recognize the importance of informing students of options available to them to integrate with local students and to participate in experiential learning activities. Students often benefit from unique learning opportunities outside of the classroom, such as intercambios (language exchanges) arranged by API.
Each semester, an average of 5-10 API students may need to temporarily or permanently leave an API program due to personal or family emergencies. API RDs help inform professors of impending absences, arrange for work to be completed from the U.S. or complete exams early. If the timing of the student’s departure will not permit course completion, API will work with the student to file formal withdrawal paperwork so that the student’s transcript will reflect an official withdrawal notation rather than failing grades.
In the majority of sites, API RDs still personally collect transcripts from the local host university. They compare course confirmations provided by students or the host university at the start of the program with the courses reflected on the transcript. Any discrepancies are provided to API Texas, so students can be contacted to verify any course changes that may have taken place during the semester. If a student confirms any mistakes, RDs will work to correct the transcript with the host university, before an erroneous transcript is mailed to the student’s home university.